Updated 11:30 a.m. ET
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of spending in races across the country, the political composition of Congress will look much the same next year as it does now, with Democrats potentially adding to their slim majority in the Senate and Republicans retaining power in the House of Representatives.
A year ago, Republicans were reasonably hopeful of picking up the necessary four seats to flip control in the Senate: Democrats were defending 23 seats this cycle, including six open spots, while the GOP had to defend only 10. But in the final days of the campaign season, amid a handful of unforced errors by Republican candidates, that goal became look increasingly out of reach.
In Missouri, where incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill had been thought one of the most vulnerable members up for re-election, Republican candidate Todd Akin saw his prospects of victory plummet after suggesting that pregnancies do not result from what he described, controversially, as "legitimate" rapes. Last night, McCaskill trounced him by 16 percent.
Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party-backed Republican who defeated longtime moderate Republican Senator Richard Lugar in the primary, suffered an upset loss to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly after his own controversial comments about abortion and rape: After suggesting that pregnancies resulting from rape are "something that God intended to happen," the already-close race tilted in Donnelly's favor. Last night, the Democrat beat Mourdock by 6 percent in a solidly red state.
Meanwhile, a number of Democratic Senate candidates seemed to benefit from the president's win at the top of the ticket: In Massachusetts, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren bested incumbent Republican Scott Brown by a decisive 8 percent; in Virginia, former Democratic governor Tim Kaine topped former Republican governor and senator George Allen by 4 percent; Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown beat Republican Josh Mandel in Ohio by 5 percent, and in Wisconsin, Democratic candidate Tammy Baldwin defeated former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson by 5 percent to become the first openly gay woman ever to be elected to the United States Senate. The race was closer in Montana, but CBS News projected a win for Democratic incumbent Jon Tester Wednesday morning.
Republicans eked out a few victories in the Senate as well: Republican Deb Fischer emerged 16 points ahead of Democrat Bob Kerrey in Nebraska, and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake bested Democrat Richard Carmona by 5 percent.
In the House, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who is an Iraq war veteran and double amputee, defeated Republican Rep. Joe Walsh by 10 points in the contest for Illinois' 8th congressional district, and Democratic incumbent Rep. John Tierney, of Massachusetts' 6th District, narrowly fended off a challenge from Republican Richard Tisei. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, meanwhile, skated to re-election in
Wisconsin's 1st district -- beating his opponent 55 to 43 percent -- despite his loss on the presidential ticket.
In other notable races, Republican congressional hopeful Mia Love failed to unseat long-time Democrat Jim Matheson in Utah's 4th district. And a bitterly fought race between two Democratic incumbents in a newly remapped 30th district in California was finally called early Wednesday for Brad Sherman over fellow Democrat Howard Berman. Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, the former presidential candidate and Minnesota incumbent, narrowly won re-election in Minnesota' 6th, but fellow Tea Party member Allen West's race in Florida's 18th district is still too close to call.
The chamber will welcome a record number of Latino Representatives next
year: As of Wednesday morning, at least 29 Hispanics will be inaugurated
into the House next year, up from the 27 currently serving.
Facing a similar post-election partisan breakdown and a number of unresolved congressional matters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged unity and cooperation among members in the coming months.
"Now that the election is over, it's time to put politics aside, and work together to find solutions. The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now, they are looking to us for solutions," he said in a statement. "We have big challenges facing us in the months ahead. Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge."
Indeed, when Congress reconvenes next week, members will face the task of dealing with an impending "fiscal cliff": The Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year and, barring congressional action, $1.2 trillion worth of automatic cuts to defense and non-defense programs will go into effect in January. Economists say the sudden jolt in fiscal spending and taxes will have a devastating impact on the economy.
The extent to which Congress will tackle these issues immediately, however, is unclear. Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio,for the unresolved budget and tax issues.
Also unknown is whether Democrat Nancy Pelosi will remain at her post as House Minority Leader in the coming Congress.
Nevertheless, by the end of Tuesday night, Democrats were relishing their victories. In her Massachusetts victory speech, Warren thanked an exuberant crowd for delivering her win.
"This victory belongs to you. You did this," she said. "For every family that has been chipped at, squeezed and hammered, we're gonna fight for a level playing field and we're going to put people back to work... I love you."